Wednesday, September 29, 2010

McKenzie River 50k: The 2010 Edition

I remember the first year we went up the McKenzie River Highway. All Gail kept saying was how beautiful it was. This year was no different as we drove to our motel. It was a nice night after many days of rain earlier in the week. Summer never came to the Northwest this year and the trails were very different. Not dry and dusty but soft.

We picked up our "swag bags" had some dinner and called it an early night. The next morning Gail took the 0630 early start at I was off an hour later. We decided to leave our car at the start and hoped to get a ride back from the finish. (More on that adventure later). Gail was a tad nervous as she had not done over 18 miles or so since Spring. We both have had some strange adventures on this trail. She has had contact lens problems, running with others who got sick. And me, falling and breaking my ribs last year which caused me to have one of the worst nights of my life. I love this trail. It is mostly downhill with a fair amount of technical running due to rocks and tree roots. Gail on the other hand is not a big fan of technical trails.

This years course is a bit different. The start you run on gravel roads for a mile or so before dropping onto the stair section. So the crowds thinned out a tad before there but again I was in dead last after one mile. I always wish that I was a bit ahead of the pack when power climbs come. I want to go faster than most but feel its a bit rude to pass when so many runners are in a steady line. Soon we were up around Clear Lake and the lava beds. I passed a few but got stuck behind a guy who ran every downhill and walked anything up, even a few paces. At the first AS we have a new out and back because of the finish being shorter this year. I dropped my water belt and went up the short grunt section. It felt good to dump that belt for a bit. On the way back I saw Pam from Salem and said "hi". Noticed a few other familiar faces too.

I always feel that the course is pretty much downhill from here. Yeah there are some minor climbs but it is all runnable. I slowly pass more runners, some are friends and we chat a bit. I feel like I am running strong but my Garmin doesn't show the pace I expect. I am eating less these days and loving my Nuun as my gut never gives me any problems anymore. What a 180 degree turn around from the last 9 years of my distance running.

At the second AS I grab my drop bag and have half a can of Starbucks Esspresso, boy those are good. I enjoy this next section as its in some in very dense cool foliage with just a bit of technical sections. Soon I pass hiker who says "watch out for the stingers up there". I think she is probably talking about the stinging nettles type of plant. But after about 10 seconds I see to women runners in front of me scream, swing there arms widely and then double their pace. Uh Oh. Yep, it happens. Intense pain. I get stung by bees 3 times in less than a couple of seconds. I never see them in this dark section of the trail but boy it hurts.

Soon I catch up with Nancy. She is my hero as I think I said last post. At 61 she has such a great pace. We chat about Waldo, her next race, Mexico and many other things. I follow her for a long time. Soon I pass but I feel I may see her again later!

I keep looking at my watch. I feel good but no speed. Maybe tired Waldo legs still from 3 weeks ago? Not sure but I am enjoying the run with all this blue sky and nice cool temps. I keep thinking I might be catching Gail soon. I really hope I don't as that means she is having a good day. I pass a couple of spots on the trail where I caught up with her in the past. I am happy as I don't see her yet. Soon I hear the cheer of the mile 23 or so AS. I never tire of that cheer as you approach. I get to the top of the little hill at the AS and there is Detour. Yeah! I caught her here like 3 years ago. I give her a kiss and the AS volunteers get a puzzled look. We chat and she says she is doing great. I say "I gotta go cause I might PR".

I blast out and try to really push it a bit. I soon pass the area where I fell hard the last two years. I am constantly thinking about that this year but I only stub my toe a few times. I am now running a good pace. All is well. I pass most everyone except I think one guy catches me. I have my tunes cranked but we still chat a bit. I see the last AS and I ask "How far to the finish" A young guy yells back "Less than 4 miles" I keep running deciding I have enough water to finish. I want that PR!

As I round the corner at the last AS I pass the guy who had passed me. I get the adrenaline flowing and start running hard. I always thought there were really big hills in this last section but since my Ultra career as progressed I find no real hills just some short little up sections. In years passed I remember just dieing on these "huge climbs". Funny how things change. I am running sub 9 pace which is huge for me at this point in the race. I see my buddy behind me a few times and he is catching me on the hills but I pull away on the flats. This is fun. Wish I was fast so I could race like this with the big guns. I am passing tons of folks these last few miles. I make a turn on a dirt road and a course Marshall says "three quarters of a mile to go". I look at my watch. I only have 2 mintues to get my PR. I am bummed. I thought the new finish might be closer but I was wrong. I pretty much knew the last 5 miles I most likely wouldn't PR but I had to try, I would be pissed if I would have missed it by a minute or so.

Now we hit this gravel road and have a good climb. My racing buddy comes by, he is strong on the hill and passes me. He is nice and says "C'mon you are doing so good, don't let me by" I say a few words but don't have the hill climbing legs left to stay with him. After a 1/2 mile of climb we crest the hill for a nice downhill finish. I cross in 5:58, just under 4 minutes slower than my PR last year. I am a bit bummed but happy I am feeling good after 31 miles.

I chat with fellow runners and eat a few things as I wait for Gail. Sarah is looking for Marc and LG and I tell her he ran a 1/4 mile with me earlier. I talk with Meghan and Craig as they are looking at the Oregon Trail Series list. I say I think I am only one of two runners that completed all 7 races of the Series this year. It would have been 3 of us but April had sprained an ankle earlier in the race and had to drop. I ended up finishing 14th male overall and 4 in my age group in this years trail series. Even though I ran all the races they take your 4 best times to calculate the winners.

Here comes Detour down the hill to the finish. She is running strong. She crosses the finish and due to some health issues this is her first trail ultra in a year. Her last one was McKenzie of 2009 one year ago. She is a happy runner today.

We now have to get back to our car. one wants to give us a ride so we head out to the highway to hitchhike back up the road. It feels strange sticking my thumb out. Cars go by and no one stops. I tell Gail I should jump in the woods as she is so cute I bet the first car would stop! Soon someone stops but the bad news is we find out he is only going 2 miles further. So out we get dumped and stick out our thumbs again. About 10 minutes later some fellow runners in a pickup stop. We jump in the back. This is so cool. I feel like a kid again riding in the back. I think this is illegal in Oregon now but who cares, its fun! They drop us off at our car and we thank them.

What a smirk! (photo by Craig T)

As we drive home I wonder if I will do this race next year. I like the course but just not sure if I want to do it one more time as I have run it four straight years now. Kind of the same feeling about the Oregon Trail Series. I tell Gail I think next year I will try some other Ultra's, maybe out of state. Problem is that it is so easy to drive and do these. I have hardly done any in Washington and think I should give those a try. Want new adventures lurk? This winter I think I will be a Marathon Man. 26 miles or so seems far enough for a fun winter. Maybe next year I will do some more half marathons. Those are fun. You are not exhausted but can run fast for 1.5 to 2 hours. Who knows. I don't really have the fire to try a 100 miler but if I got into Western I would sure give it a try. This was my 75 th run of Marathon length or longer. Maybe that is making me pause and think about where running is taking me. I do know someday Gail and I will be in an RV driving around the country doing Marathons for a few months. It is something we both want to do. But that is probably years away with jobs still required. What do the few of you that read this blog think? Any fun ideas? Let us know.

Next up? Portland Marathon. No pressure or anything as I have posted my two fastest marathons ever the last two years on this course. Wonder if the fire will come back that morning? Right now I look forward to the race but not pumped about running hard.


olga said...

I think going after the WA series might be fun, and still close enough. Not to mention all the marathons you have a chance to do between OR and WA. Oh, you can do 1/2's, althoug for me the price is a deterring factor - pay as much as for a 50M and run short road run, which I can do on my own...hmm...Oh take a break!

Sarah said...

McKenzie was fun this year! I probably won't do it again next year either. I still have a few others in the OR series to mark off my list.

Marc and I are planning our rv trip around the country too! Half marathons sound like fun. But if it's a race that has both half and full, I'd have a hard time doing the half instead of the full.

chris mcpeake said...

Congrats on an excellent race. Great report.